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One of the leading experts on the psychology of choice, Professor Iyengar is interested in how the ideals of choice contrast with the realities faced by choosers. Are the value and consequences of choice universal? In a series of studies, she has found that choice has particular importance for Americans. For example, she has examined how choice functions as an incentive in the workplace, affecting employees' job satisfaction and physical health in different ways around the world.

Is it possible to have too many choices? In a now-classic study conducted at Draeger's Market in Menlo Park, a store well-known for the abundance of options it offers customers, she conducted a field study in which shoppers passing through the store either encountered a tasting booth with six jars of jam or 24. In which case did more people stop to sample the jam, and in which case did people buy a jar?

6 Jams
24 Jams

Number of people who...

Stopped to sample jam

Eventually bought jam

What about a very important decision such as saving for retirement? In a study where she analyzed nearly 800,000 people's savings decisions, Professor Iyengar found that the more choices of 401(k) funds people had, the less likely they were to participate in their retirement savings program.

Even when they did participate, however, they didn't take advantage of the diversity available to them. The more funds available, the more likely were they to avoid equities and invest in money markets and bonds.

Whether choosing an investment plan or a jam to put on your toast, choices both large and small affect our lives in dramatic ways. Supported by various organizations, Professor Iyengar has explored the consequences of choice for industries and individuals across the globe. Her work has and continues to help us understand the importance of choice in all aspects of our lives, from the seemingly mundane to the absolutely consequential.

For more information about The Art of Choosing, including excerpts and related videos, please visit SheenaIyengar.com.

 

"No one asks better questions, or comes up with more intriguing answers."

Malcolm Gladwell
author of Blink